Home : Archive : TSV 1-10 : TSV 4 : Review

Image of the Fendahl

Reviewed by Cornelius Stone

Chris Boucher is one of Doctor Who's most unusual of writers, quite apart from being one of the best. He ranks with the reliably excellent Robert Holmes among the crop of current writers we are seeing. His preoccupation is with the state-of-mind more than the standard thrills made to order. When he presents a horror or a creature, it has the backbone of inventive thinking, not just the gloss of mechanical cliché. Boucher and Holmes wrote a bounty of scripts for this programme at this point. Doctor Who fans need to count themselves lucky.

In Image of the Fendahl the 'supernatural' is examined from the point of view of super-science, treating the spooky and ghost-like, undead nature of the Beast as phenomenon explicable by SF explanation. It's another fetish of mine, combining elements of science fiction with totems of the supernatural, such as spectres and vampires. (Yes, I'd love to see Sapphire and Steel once again, and I look forward to the eventual rerun of the Doctor's encounter with bloodsuckers in State of Decay). Image of the Fendahl is particularly entertaining in its accounts of matters. It harks back to The Daemons in the Pertwee era in respect of 'calling up' some amazing creature. The Fendahl is ancient, a consciousness that has been waiting to return to mobility for some time. I know it's a cliché, but it's appropriate treatment.

An example of Boucher's approach to stories is in the terror all the principal players had in attempting to move their 'petrified' limbs. As the nasty unknown prowled and approached, Leela (God, she's an excellent Who companion), had dreams of premonition. Everything originates in many ways from their own minds, i.e. the response the character has to the situation is in many ways what has gone into creating that situation. Psychic phenomena such as precognition are effective and dare I say 'realistic' in a serial like this one. Premonition always has a hand-in-hand place with haunting and the like; if shards of the future have already entered the minds of people, then what is taking place has the crushing weight of being and feeling inevitable.

The Fendahl herself/itself was effective, about as good as Doctor Who SFX and make-up monsters get, in fact, which is sometimes considerably decent. (We'll look the other way in the case of The Invisible Enemy). She was aloof; her alien nature remained to us a mystery. We have to fill in the abstract details.

I feel I must restate my liking of Leela; yes, she's gorgeous, I won't overlook it, but far more than that, she is gutsy, unafraid, brave, naive but able to compensate, reliable, a match for Tom Baker, and a treat for whatever she brought to the show. "Who licensed you to slaughter people?" asks Baker. She's never had that moral dilemma. Red Sonja, eat your heart out. Here is an intelligent, individual, barbarian warrior woman whose mental defences as much as her physical prowess and engaging personality stand up in the staunchest of company.

Good to see more of Denis Lill as the selfish scientist egghead whose militia didn't do him a scrap of good. (Lill is a New Zealand actor who starred in later series of Terry Nation's programme Survivors). A nice all-round tone to Image of the Fendahl. I look forward to State of Decay, as Image of the Fendahl has made me hungry for more horror-integrated SF.

This item appeared in TSV 4 (February 1988).

Index nodes: Image of the Fendahl
Reprinted in: Special Reprint Edition